2009 Nissan Versa 1.6 Sedan

2009 Nissan Versa 1.6 Sedan 2009 Nissan Versa 1.6 Sedan
Short Take Road Test

The economy is tanking, your car is following suit, and taking the risk on a used car is a little too unsettling. You prefer the warm comfort of a factory-backed three-year/36,000-mile warranty but don’t have a whole lot of coin to spend. Nissan has a solution: the Versa 1.6, the cheapest brand-spankin’-new sedan in America.

Not Even a Radio

The 1.6 is essentially a Versa with a smaller engine and almost no creature comforts. It comes in two very basic versions, the 1.6 Base and the 1.6. Both are powered by a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder with 107 hp at 6000 rpm and 111 lb-ft of torque at 4600 rpm, down 15 hp and 17 lb-ft from the 1.8-liter used in other Versas. Mated only to a five-speed manual gearbox, the 1.6 Base comes standard with six airbags, front-seat active head restraints, and a tire-pressure monitoring system for a base price of $10,685. The only options available on the Base are your choice of four exterior colors, anti-lock brakes for $250, and floor and trunk mats for $155. That’s it.

Spend an extra $1000 to upgrade from the Base car to the 1.6 trim, and you’ll get standard air conditioning and the choice of keeping the manual transmission or adding a four-speed automatic at no charge. We tested a fully loaded (!) Versa 1.6 manual with ABS and floor mats, which came to a grand total of $12,090. Music? Forget about it, since there’s no radio. The 1.6 only comes prewired with four speakers to accept a dealer-installed or aftermarket head unit, an addition we highly recommend—you can only talk to yourself for so long before you go nuts.

The Little Engine That Could

With all 107 hp only available near redline, you might think it would take the better part of a week to reach 60 mph. Ringing in at 9.1 seconds from 0 to 60 mph and 17 seconds in the quarter-mile at 81 mph, the 1.6 is only 0.1 second slower in both sprints than the last Versa 1.8 we tested. The 1.6 makes up for the lost power by shedding the excess weight of such luxuries as power windows. The shifter is well positioned but does have the typical Nissan clunkiness, and the clutch takeup is still a bit numb. However, the clutch actually feels a bit better than the one in our previous 2007 Altima long-termer.

Although the EPA estimates 26 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway for the manual 1.6 (the automatic is rated 1 mpg less on the highway), wintry-weather wheelspin combined with some aggressive acceleration netted us only 24 mpg overall. The Versa 1.6 comfortably coasted over our torn-up Michigan roads better than some cars twice its price, and body roll was kept to a minimum. The steering isn’t particularly talkative, although it comes alive a bit once you’re off-center.

A Nonoptional Option

We highly recommend that anyone purchasing the Versa 1.6 spring for the ABS package, as it’s a nominal fee for one of the best safety technologies since the invention of the seatbelt. (We wish the Versa were available with stability control, but it’s not, at any price.) Even with a soft brake pedal and doughnut-sized 185/65R-14 Bridgestone B381 tires (the rims are just five inches wide), the Versa 1.6 halted from 70 mph in an impressive 172 feet. That is an astonishing 23-foot improvement over the Versa 1.8 we tested, which also had ABS.

Neutral Interior

From the captain’s chair, it appears that hard plastics dominate the stark interior, but compared with, say, the Dodge Caliber, the Versa feels more like a Mercedes-Benz than the bargain appliance it is. The headliner is still made of typical mouse fur material, but the seats have La-Z-Boy–like comfort and a nice high position, allowing great visibility all around. The steering wheel is a bit of a reach and could benefit from a telescoping option, but we aren’t complaining at this price. In the back, rear-seat legroom is vast for full-size adults, and there's also a good 13.8 cubic feet of trunk space—slightly more than in Nissan’s one-size-up Sentra sedan.

Nissan has put together a nice little package with the Versa 1.6. Compared with the $12,090 sticker of our tester, the Toyota Yaris sedan starts about $1600 higher and the Hyundai Accent sedan an extra $1525. (The Accent three-door starts at $10,665, $20 less than the Versa 1.6 Base.) Our favorite small car, the 10Best-winning Honda Fit, is more fun to drive and offers more utility with its hatch configuration, but it starts some $3300 above a “loaded” Versa 1.6. With such good road manners and loads of utility at $12,000 with all the options, it’s hard to find a better choice in the extreme entry-level segment.